by Bryan Culver
On the evening of July 7th Philadelphia’s Festival Pier hosted Mad Decent Block Party, a one-night electronic dance music extravaganza curated by globe-trotting producer Diplo, along with a small lineup of Philly-via-LA label affiliates. It was a bombastic flurry of ground-shaking bass drops, adrenaline-pumping climaxes, and psyched-out visual projections. Heady vibes all around, man.
For the uninitiated, the electronic dance music genre, commonly called EDM, is a percussive, high-octane brew of hip-hop, dubstep, house, disco, and pop, produced to ‘turn up’ night clubs, raves, and music festivals.
In recent years, EDM festivals have spread like wildfire. It’s akin to what rock ’n’ roll was in the 1960s, disco in the ’70s, or rave culture in the ’90s. Diplo and contemporaries fully embrace the rock star image. While you might not recognize him by name, unless you reside in a subterranean bunker, surely you’d recognize a few of his tracks. His 2016 chart-topping hit “where are ü now” featured Canadian “heartthrob” Justin Bieber, as well as Skrylex, another EDM superstar. Skrylex’s calls his flavor of EDM “brostep”. These are the spokesmen of the tween generation.
Although an avid electronic music fan, I’m not plugged into the EDM scene at all. I had no idea of what to expect, other than the usual outdoor concert experience.
What I didn’t expect was for the festival grounds to be completely overrun by berserk teenagers, a swarm of sweaty bodies liberated from the confines of their suburban helicopter parents. I was immediately skeptical how strictly the 18+ age restriction was enforced.
I felt like I was observing a high school party.
I felt a bit out-of-place.
I had a decade on most of these kids. Kids ‘twerking’ in bathing suits. Having come to the festival alone, the solitary journalist, I felt safer behind the lens of my camera. When did I become such a prude? An old grump? I’m not even old. Heck, I like dancing too on occasion, but not with this crowd. I had the nagging feeling any minute a kid was going to tug at the back of my shirt, “Hey Mr.! Hey Mr.! Could you buy me a beer?”
Speaking of which, I needed a drink.
Options were somewhat limited—similar to the professional sports arena or the casino, you were trapped in, at the mercy of vendors charging arm-over-fist for otherwise nondescript macro beer and greasy concession snacks. Unless you’re an avid fan of the $14 Pabst Blue Ribbon or the $12 boiled hotdog, it behooves you to be strategic.
At least the PBR cans were jumbo-sized and ice-cold.
For something slightly on the more festive side, Bacardí erected a Caribbean-themed tiki lounge at the rear of the festival. The +21 age restriction was also a nice change of pace. Still within viewing distance of the main stage, it was like a secret oasis, cut off from the all-consuming chaos. At least temporarily.
The bar offered a mean list of cocktails, each featuring Bacardi’s limited release ‘Major Lazer’ rum—Major Lazer is the moniker of Diplo’s collaboratively-produced Caribbean Dancehall project. My drink was called the “tropical storm”, ice, ginger beer, and a lime wedge. A play on the dark and stormy. It had a nice kick.
Little did the barmen know just how apt the name ‘tropical storm’ was.
At approximately 8:00PM a grim storm cloud began rolling in overhead, exploding in torrential downpour. The commotion! A stampede of deranged attendees scurried for cover—and incidentally the tiki lounge happened to be shielded from the elements by a canvas tarp. The helpless bouncers could resist the encroaching crowd no longer.
Sweaty, filthy, exasperated bodies began filling the lounge area which quickly reached full capacity. You could barely move, much less breathe. I’m too old for this.
I decided it was time to call it a day—I squeezed my way through the incoming stampede and plunged out into the rain. I ran all the way down to 2nd and Market station.
By the time I boarded the subway I was drenched from head-to-toe. Teeth-chattering. I had had enough. Time to head back to South Philly. What a spectacle.